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on February 26, 2011
I think the cover and title of this book are a bit misleading. The book certainly doesn't contain any blueprint for 'changing the world'. What it does contain is a collection of essays written between 1956 and 2009, most never previously published before in English, many considerably extended, that provide a history of both Marx and Marxism.

The book is divided into two sections. Part 1 is entitled 'Marx and Engels' and consists of 'Marx Today', 'Marx, Engels and pre-Marxian Socialism', 'Marx, Engels and Politics', 'On Engels' The Condition of the Working Class', 'On the Communist Manifesto', 'Discovering the Grundrisse', 'Marx on pre-Capitalist Formations' and 'The Fortunes of Marx's and Engels' Writings'.

Part 2 - 'Marxism' - includes 'Dr Marx and the Victorian Critics', 'The Influence of Marxism 1880-1914', 'In the Era of Anti-fascism 1929-45', 'Gramsci', 'The Reception of Gramsci', 'The Influence of Marxism 1945-83', 'Marxism in Recession 1983-2000' and finally 'Marx and Labour: the Long Century'.

I have to admit I found some of the essays pretty hard work. 'The Fortunes of Marx's and Engels' Writings' looks at the publication histories of the works, how they have developed (for example, the MEGA or 'Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe' projects), the changing fates of the works in relation to the rise and fall of communist states and parties. A bit dry.

But, on the other hand, the second essay, 'Marx, Engels and pre-Marxian Socialism', is a fascinating contextualisation of the thoughts of Marx and Engels. Generally, as Hobsbawm points out, 'the origins can be found in French socialism, German philosophy and British political economy' (P34). Looking at these in some detail well illustrates the foundations of Marx's and Engels' thoughts.

The second section I found generally much more interesting. The essay 'In the Era of Anti-fascism 1929-45' considers how the growth of Marxism in the 'Age of Catastrophe' was a response to the Great Depression and the rise of fascism. As Hobsbawm says 'The radicalisation of intellectuals in the 1930s was rooted in a response to the traumatic crisis of capitalism in the early years of this decade' (P266) and '...the threat of fascism was far more than merely political...If fascism stamped out Marx, it equally stamped out Voltaire and John Stuart Mill.' (P268)

The two essays on Gramsci are also fascinating, partly because of the ideas themselves but also as an illustration of the way Marx's ideas can be developed, extended and modified. And, in the same way that Marx's ideas have spread, the developments of those ideas might also be propagated.

In 'The Influence of Marxism 1945-83', Hobsbawm charts the intellectual impact of Marxism. As he says, 'There are not many thinkers whose name alone suggests major transformations of the human intellectual universe. Marx is among them, together with such figures as Newton, Darwin and Freud.' (P347)

This was a period that saw huge increases in secondary and university education, the radical movements of the 1960s, the synthesis of Marxist ideas with structuralism, psychoanalysis, existentialism (think Althusser, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty, the Frankfurt School et al). But this explosion of Marxian theory perhaps held within it the seeds of it's own destruction. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of radical neo-liberal economics, post-modern relativism are all considered in 'Marxism in Recession 1983-2000'.

The final section brings things almost right up-to-date. If Marxism has been discredited, so too has capitalism in its latest crisis. Hobsbawm suggests that '[s]ince the 1980s it has been evident that the socialists...were left without their traditional alternative to capitalism...But the believers in the 1973-2008 reductio ad absurdum of market society are also left helpless. A systematic alternative system may not be on the horizon, but the possibility of a disintegration, even a collapse, of the existing system is no longer to be ruled out.' (P418)

Hobsbawm points out that we have not reached 'The End of History'. Marxist-based analyses can still be productive and are still being produced - think of David Harvey's The Enigma of Capital. It is becoming increasingly clear that capitalism as it is currently constituted is not sustainable, in all senses of the word. As such, Hobsbawm's book serves as a timely reminder of the history, the depth and sophistication of Marx's analyses and perhaps provides a pointer to the future of Marxist inspired thought and action.

Interestingly, a young Egyptian protester in Tahrir Square, interviewed on the BBC a couple of days ago, claimed to be a 'revolutionary socialist'...
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on April 19, 2011
Professor Eric Hobsbawm, perhaps the world's most famous living Communist intellectual, hardly needs any introduction. His great age has not diminished the impact of his works or their popularity, and for good reason. It may therefore disappoint some to learn that this most recent publication is not a wholly new production. This despite its somewhat incongruous title ("How To Change The World: Tales of Marx and Marxism"), and its equally silly cover with Ernesto Guevara on the front, whom Hobsbawm generally dislikes. Instead, it is a collection of essays and prefaces hitherto either unpublished entirely or unpublished in English, having been written for his German and Italian publications. The fact alone that these are other major intellectual languages Hobsbawm is entirely familiar with despite being a native speaker of English does him credit among his colleagues.

Perhaps somewhat unorthodox in my judgement on Hobsbawm, while I think he is an excellent writer and a very good social historian, I do not think his political history or his political analysis worth much. He has been consistently mediocre when it comes to writing about practical politics, especially those of the last century, as shown also in his memoirs. I was therefore very pleased to see that this book concerns itself entirely - with the exception of the last chapter - with the history of ideas, the discipline Hobsbawm commands best. The various essays in this collection, ranging from notes on the prehistory and the contemporary reception of Marxism to musings on Gramsci and Marxist thought in the postwar world, are all concerned with Marxism as one major intellectual influence and current in the history of ideas. This is as it should be, because it allows Hobsbawm the necessary distance as well as giving him the freedom to exercise the kind of subtle and nuanced reflection on the nature and spread of ideas in history and their effect on politics that has made him justly famous. While this is therefore by all means a very intellectual book and certainly one step removed from any practical political question (even historical ones), it is a delight to read for those who value ideas and their history for their own sake. Some of the chapters, such as "Marx on Pre-Capitalist Formations" and "Dr Marx and the Victorian Critics" are so good that despite their considerable length they make the reader want them to go on for much longer. What greater praise for the historian?
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on April 30, 2012
Discovering the work of Eric Hobsbawm is a type of liberation and always an exercise in deepening of one's knowledge and understanding.

In one paragraph, "How to Change The World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism" is a collection of essays offering, in "Part One", insightful introductions to the classic texts of Marx, Engels and Marxism and penetrating analysis of Marx's work on capitalistic development. In "Part Two" the reader is provided an historical analysis of the misfortunes of Marxism, (1) post-Marx 1880-1914 (chapter 10), (2) the resistance of Marxism to fascism from 1929-1945 (chapter 11), (3) the influence of Marxism from 1945-1983 (chapter 14), (4) Marxism's transformed influence from 1983-2000 during the resurgence of neo-liberal era (chapter 15), and the importance of Antonio Gramsci for contemporary social theory and political philosophy (chapters 12 and 13). The first and last chapters articulate, according to Hobsbawm, the importance of Marx and Marxism for the twenty-first century.

As a whole these articles are interesting and relevant, but how they present as book is more questionable. More curious is the title of the book, "How To Change The World." This title is curious for two reasons. First, nowhere in the collection is there political discussion of how to change the world. Second, and far more import, the seven decades of theoretical and historical work of Eric Hobsbawm may accurately be described as 'why capitalism successfully resists transformation.'

Hobsbawm is best well known for his four book history of European capitalism, "The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848" (1962), "The Age of Capital: 1848-1875" (1975), "The Age of Empire: 1875-1914" (1987), "The Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century, 1914-1991" (1994). He also has made very important contributions to labor history, the emergence of nations, nationalism and tradition, Art within capitalism (especially Jazz), and historical analysis of "misfits" (my term not his) within capitalism historically. In many ways I like his work on "misfits" the best, "Primitive Rebels" (1959), "Bandits" (1969), and "Uncommon People" (1998).

Hobsbawm and his collaborators transformed the writing of economic history. He and several other Marxists founded the academic historical journal "Past and Present." Recently, an acquaintance of mine commented to me that it is a "shame" "Past and Present" is no longer Marxist. This is actually very misleading comment, because economic history has now so incorporated the lessons of Marxism, Marxism is no longer recognized as such. Hobsbawm was one of the leading voices in making historical Marxism mainstream. [One very brief example, Hobsbawm and his collaborators employed the dictum "history from the bottom, up." What this metaphor meant is that actual history happens mainly by the actions of "common people", while most accounts of history are written about kings, queens, generals, business leaders, and otherwise famous people. To write about George Washington, at the neglect of individuals carrying-out the Boston Tea party and other uprising is to misrepresent not only history, but George Washington himself. Howard Zinn's "A People's History of United States", and national bestseller, is a very famous and successful history in the historical tradition that Hobsbawm helped to establish and make mainstream.]

This current collection of essays under review epitomizes the very foundation of Hobsbawm and his collaborators approach to history. Namely, first rigorously understanding Marx and his insights, and not obscuring and exaggerating Marx for political advantage. Nearly all of these essays have been previously published, however, over half the book is either first published (two chapters) or here first published in English (six chapters).

Nonetheless, the newness of these articles is not the strength. Rather it is Hobsbawm's accurate and sober historical interpretations and penetrating knowledge of Marx and Marxism that offers the reader invaluable insights. The real aim of this collection of essays is, however, the importance of Marx and Marxism for the twenty-first century in light of the financial collapse of 2007-8. In the context of the financial crisis of 2007-8: "We have rediscovered that capitalism is not the answer but the question" (p. 417). Marx and classical Marxism helps us better understand what capitalism is, via a series of "introductions" to the classic works of Marxism (e.g. Engels' "Conditions of the English Working Class", Marx and Engels' "Communist Manifesto", Marx's "Grudrisse, and Gramsci's work more generally).

The importance of Marx, according to Hobsbawm, is that capitalism is structurally contradictory and hence crisis-ridden. "Once again it is evident that even between major crises, `the market' has no answer to the problem confronting the twenty-first century: that unlimited and increasingly high-tech economic growth in the pursuit of unsustainable profit produces global wealth, but at the cost of an increasingly dispensable factor production, human labour,, and one might add, of the globe's natural resources" (p. 419). Marx can help explain why.

Hobsbawm is insistent, however, that the classic texts of Marxism "cannot easily be used as handbooks to political action" because movements today and in the future "have little in common with those of Marx, Engels" and classical Marxism (p. 377). What Marx and classical Marxism have to offer is an understanding of what "capitalism" is. Contemporary global protests, including the "Occupy" movement in the U.S., are unambiguously anti-capitalist "though without any clear idea of capitalism" (p. 416). Thus, to understand the basis of capitalism in its historical emergence is important, for this we need Marx; and to understand how capitalism has periodically changed, without being fully transformed, we need Hobsbawm and his periodization of capitalistic development.

These essays help us better understand the current and New Age of Catastrophe (Terrorism, Wars, Global Protest, Financial Crises, Economic Recessions, etc. etc.) since 2001, these catastrophes not unique for capitalist history, but its norm.
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on May 3, 2013
In these tales of Marx and Marxism E. Hobsbawm explains why Marx is still highly relevant today, despite the bankruptcy of communist regimes all over the world. He also summarizes Marx's main works and socio-economic ideas as well as his political praxis and the influences of other people on his work.

Relevance today
The globalized capitalist world of the last decades had been anticipated in crucial ways by Marx: the concentration of Western economic and financial power in a few hands, high socio-economic inequalities and systemic (capitalist) crises.

Marx's ideas were influenced by Hegel (dialectics - destroyed by B. Russell in his `Unpopular Essays'), J.-J. Rousseau (egalitarianism), R. Owen (communities without private property), H. de Saint-Simon (the all importance of productive industry for progress) and C. Fourier (labor is the essential factor in the satisfaction of human instincts).

Political theory (to change the world)
With an inevitable historical development on its side, the working class had to be united in a class movement and consequently into a political party. Change (distribution of the surplus value) could also be induced by trade union action and favorable legislation.
For Marx, politics is essentially a class struggle within the State. The State through its government represents the ruling class and must therefore be eliminated, together with its monopoly on violence.

Marx and Engels didn't give guidance for the coming communist society or the socialization of the economy; however, Marx rejected elected assemblies of parliamentary representatives. But, all `Marxist' attempts to realize `real socialism' culminated in uncontrollable State apparatuses stuffed with apparatchiks, following Lenin's receipt of a rigid and centralized one party system and government.

Marxist failures and Hobsbawm's omissions
Marx's prediction of a political radicalizing pauperization proved not to be correct. He failed also to reckon with the `national' question (ethnic and religious factors). Moreover, the human capacity to produce in an unlimited way leads to an environmental catastrophe and is in contradiction with Marx's idea of progress. E. Hobsbawm admits that Marxism cannot master the crucial fields of natural science and technology. Its classic texts cannot `easily' be used as a handbook for political action today, because times have changed. There is also a chasm between Marx's analysis of capitalism and his hope of a perfect society to be achieved through proletarian action.
In his historical overview, E. Hobsbawm `forgets' the Berlin, Budapest and Prague `proletarian' revolts after WWII, the fate of the East-European satellite States, the Stalin-Ribbentrop Pact, the famines after the agricultural collectivization in the USSR or the power struggles within the communist parties (with show trials under Stalin in the USSR and in the satellite States).
All in all, Eric Hobsbawm had to concede that Marxism today is in retreat.
Some minor errors in this book: Georges Eekhoud is a (formidable) Belgian writer, not a painter. The U.S. painter is E. Hopper (not Gropper).

Other themes
Eric Hobsbawm treats also Marx's `Grundrisse' and the idea of progress, `The German Ideology' and its historical periodization (kinship - feudalism - capitalism), `The Communist Manifesto' and the openness to failure of the proletarian action, F. Engels's formidable analysis of the dire straits of the English working class in the 19th century and A. Gramsci's Marxist importance for his concept of a political strategy in order to turn a class into a hegemonic power.

Although some parts of this book (the history of the influence of Marxist ideas in the world) will only interest specialist scholars, the other thought provoking texts are an excellent introduction to K. Marx's and F. Engels's works and ideas.
Highly recommended reading.
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on March 21, 2011
Hobsbawm gives a very detailed scrutiny, historically and sociologically, of all the various groups worldwide that have subscribed to Marxism in its different forms. He gives a convincing analysis of the decline of Marx's influence on political thinking but fails at the end of the book to indicate how current and future thinkers might reconstruct Marxism as capitalism disintegrates. The book is,nevertheless a convincing socialist guidebook on the structuring of society of the future.
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on August 5, 2015
*How to Change the World* is a selection of shorter pieces by the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm on the reception of Marx's ideas. Its primary interest lies not in its maintaining any particular thesis about society, but in the many hard-headed observations the lifetime radical Hobsbawm makes about the intellectual history of the socialist movement. For one thing, Hobsbawm points out that in the "golden age" of Marxist agitation the canon of available works by Marx and Engels was very much smaller, as was the secondary literature by other writers: "committed Marxists" were less about a 'lifestyle' whose contours were determined by scores of volumes of Theory and more about an all-around rationalism encompassing various progressive aspects of society, especially including scientific discovery. For another thing, he is very clear that the progressive movements of the future must not "refound" themselves on the practices of the past, though they will not be capable of doing without the examples set by socialists and communists. Hobsbawm is easy to follow, and the comments on the *Grundrisse* and Gramsci are especially valuable. A reality-check for the leftism-besotted.
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on December 14, 2012
Marx is back. Even finance capitalists like George Soros are re-reading him with attention, and -- more tentatively, after the terrible experience of Stalinism -- leftists are rediscovering him. Hobsbawm notes two main reasons: 1st, the collapse of the Soviet Union "liberated Marx from public identification with Leninism in theory and with Leninist regimes in practice," and 2d, "the globalised capitalist world that emerged in the 1990s was in crucial ways uncannily like the world anticipated by Marx in the Communist Manifesto." Hobsbawm himself has been liberated from identification with Leninist regimes (though long active in the British Communist Party, he became increasing critical of Soviet practices beginning in the 1960s).

In this collection of essays, one written as long ago as 1957 and others published here for the first time, he stresses the "enormous force" of Marx's thought "as an economic thinker, as a historical thinker and analyst, and as the recognised founding father (with Durkheim and Max Weber) of modern thinking about society." But he also points out that Marx never completed his magnum opus, Capital -- volumes 2 and 3 were put together by Engels from Marx's notes after Marx's death in 1883 -- and left many important issues unresolved. No theory of literature or other arts, though he and Engels were obviously interested and commented on these in their correspondence. Engels' anthropological theorizing, based mainly on the flawed research of Lewis Morgan, doesn't hold up today, though we can still learn something from the questions Engels posed if not his answers.

But the lack most seriously felt by later Marxists has been a theory of politics, despite what Hobsbawm calls (correctly, I think) many "brilliant" political insights in Marx's journalistic writings, especially "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon" and the pieces gathered by Engels under the title "Civil War in France". How exactly were revolutionaries supposed to make the revolution? And how would the new socialist or communist society be organized? Marx and Engels chose not to say. Lenin, a great pragmatist more than a theoretician, made up theoretical positions on the fly as he tried to solve one problem after another. But according to Hobsbawm it was Antonio Gramsci who "pioneered a Marxist theory of politics." Gramsci was not only the founder of the Italian Communist Party but also a rare intellectual who knew both the rural (Sardinia) and urban industrial (Turin) proletariat. Hobsbawm's two essays on Gramsci will not only remind you of his brilliance and originality, they will no doubt make you want to reread the Prison Notebooks.

Now as then (in the 1880s or 1930s or 1960s) if we are looking for answers for our current economic crisis, we're going to have to make them up ourselves -- but Marx and Engels, Gramsci and others can help us formulate the questions we should be asking. And this book by Hobsbawm should help us understand those thinkers.
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VINE VOICEon February 7, 2012
Hobsbawm's momentous achievements as an historian of modern Europe are well chronicled, and this welcome volume is a more concise account of his primary occupation: the history of Marx and Marxism. Beginning with well documented sections on Marx's early historical and political background, Hobsbawm traces his intellectual counters through the various landscapes of Philosophy, Sociology, and Political Economy. We are presented with a detailed portrait of the emergence of dialectical materialism vis-à-vis the philosophic engagements with left-Hegelianism, not to mention brilliant accounts of the revolutionary struggles of which Marx was a participant. Moreover, Hobsbawm is particularly astute in outlining the philological questions that constitute the history of Marx publication. Additionally, he has provided two very interesting chapters about the Italian philosopher Gramsci, and why he is still important for revolutionary Marxists today. While I know the task is insurmountable, I still can't help thinking that there should have been more discussion of the Russian Revolution and its historical decline. For another time, perhaps.
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on July 4, 2013
How can I not recommend this great book by a great teacher -- someone who lived and breathed communism, with a generous mind. Everyone should read books like this....
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on February 25, 2013
a must read for everyone willing to understand the relevance of Marx for today's world. It is a great collection of essays.
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